“Such a priest should neither concelebrate nor assist at the distribution of Holy Communion,” he wrote. “He should also not sit in the sanctuary but rather take his seat among the faithful in the congregation.”
In 1969, five years after the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council, the Congregation for Divine Worship issued an instruction which expressed that Blessed Paul VI had determined not to change the means of administering Holy Communion to the faithful – i.e., to retain distribution of the Host on the tongue to those kneeling, rather than allowing communicants to receive the Host in their hands.
The instruction, Memoriale Domini, indicated that where distribution of Communion in the hand already prevailed, episcopal conferences should weigh carefully whether special circumstances warranted reception of the Eucharist in the hand, avoiding disrespect or false opinions regarding the Eucharist and ill effects that might follow, and if a two-thirds voting majority decided in the affirmative, such a decision could be affirmed by the Holy See.
It noted that “It is certainly true that ancient usage once allowed the faithful to take this divine food in their hands and to place it in their mouths themselves.”
But “Later, with a deepening understanding of the truth of the eucharistic mystery, of its power and of the presence of Christ in it, there came a greater feeling of reverence towards this sacrament and a deeper humility was felt to be demanded when receiving it. Thus the custom was established of the minister placing a particle of consecrated bread on the tongue of the communicant.”
“This method of distributing holy communion must be retained … not merely because it has many centuries of-tradition behind it, but especially because it expresses the faithful's reverence for the Eucharist.”
The congregation also wrote that this traditional practice “ensures, more effectively, that holy communion is distributed with the proper respect, decorum and dignity. It removes the danger of profanation of the sacred species” and “it ensures that diligent carefulness about the fragments of consecrated bread which the Church has always recommended.”
They noted that “A change in a matter of such moment … does not merely affect discipline. It carries certain dangers with it which may arise from the new manner of administering holy communion: the danger of a loss of reverence for the august sacrament of the altar, of profanation, of adulterating the true doctrine.”
When some bishops asked for permission for Communion in the hand, Bl. Paul VI sought the opinion of all the Church's Roman rite bishops. Of those responding, 57 percent said that attention should not be paid to the desire for the reception of Communion on the hand. Of those bishops who were open to considering the practice, just over one-third had reservations about it.
And 60 percent of bishops did not even wish that Communion in the hand be experimented with in small communities. More than half did not believe the faithful would receive such a change gladly.
So, in 1969, Bl. Paul VI “decided not to change the existing way of administering holy communion to the faithful,” considering the remarks and advice of his fellow bishops, the gravity of the matter, and the force of the arguments against it.
(Story continues below)
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Despite this instruction, and subsequent expressions of support for the reception of Holy Communion on the tongue from St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, the distribution of the Eucharist on the hand has become widely adopted, especially in the West.
The Congregation for Divine Worship’s 2004 instruction on matters regarding the Eucharist, Redemptionis sacramentum, established that: “Although each of the faithful always has the right to receive Holy Communion on the tongue, at his choice, if any communicant should wish to receive the Sacrament in the hand, in areas where the Bishops’ Conference with the recognitio of the Apostolic See has given permission, the sacred host is to be administered to him or her. However, special care should be taken to ensure that the host is consumed by the communicant in the presence of the minister, so that no one goes away carrying the Eucharistic species in his hand. If there is a risk of profanation, then Holy Communion should not be given in the hand to the faithful.”
In the US, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal states that “The consecrated host may be received either on the tongue or in the hand, at the discretion of each communicant.”